July’s data@breakfast – the information-sharing platform of UKZN’s Big Data and Informatics Research Flagship – was addressed by alumnus and founder of Proudly Human, Dr Adriana Marais, who explored the intriguing topic of, Off-World: Above and Beyond.

‘We are living at a unique point in the history of life on Earth,’ Marais explained. ‘Developments in engineering and science are taking place at an unprecedented rate, and the expansion of our society beyond this planet is within reach.’

According to Marais, human settlement on the Moon and Mars in the coming decades is increasingly realistic. At the same time, the industry required for this development is having an impact on our planet’s climate, and unprecedented and extreme weather conditions are predicted to increase.

‘The future survival of humanity, whether living off-world or battling the elements on Earth, will depend on technology,’ said Marais. ‘But most importantly, survival will depend on society itself, and how successful communities are at working together in extreme and resource-constrained environments.

‘Towards off-world settlement as well as sustainability on Earth, we plan to demonstrate successful community living in some of the harshest environments on our planet,’ she said. ‘The Off-World Tech Hub and associated experiments will promote companies developing technology for sustainability, facilitate skills development, and boost research, innovation and technology towards off-grid functionality, as well as provide a vision for young people of achieving successful communities in extreme and resource-constrained environments through grit, imagination, science and technology.’

In December 2020, Marais and her team will depart for an overwinter, off-world settlement simulation experiment in Antarctica to demonstrate community living and off-grid capabilities from life-support to communication systems, in the harshest and most isolated environment on Earth.

The expedition is an initiative of #ProudlyHuman: pioneering new frontiers in research and technology for a sustainable future on Earth, above and beyond.

Besides being the founder of #ProudlyHuman, Marais is Director at the Foundation for Space Development, a member of the South African government advisory task team on the 4th Industrial Revolution, faculty at the Singularity University and Duke Corporate Education, and an astronaut candidate with the Mars One Project.

Marais was Head of Innovation at SAP Africa between 2017 and 2019. Her career began in academia, largely at the Centre for Quantum Technology at UKZN. She holds an MSc (summa cum laude) in quantum cryptography and a PhD in quantum biology. Her postdoctoral research focused on quantum effects in photosynthesis as well as the origins of prebiotic molecules and life itself.

Marais is currently pursuing a second PhD in economics in resource-constrained environments at the University of Cape Town.

See www.proudlyhuman.com for more details.

Words: Sally Frost

Photograph: Bheki Mthembu